Monday, April 9, 2012

Cracking the Code

The person standing in front of you hands you a document, black words on white paper. It looks familiar like you should know it intimately, yet a strange language appears in the margins. They are handwritten in a hand that is not your own. They appear deliberate as if they are right where they're supposed to be. But you don't know what they mean. The characters look like they could be letters in English but the words seem like they're only partial words. Things like "awk" or "trans" in a bold red hang on the borders of the familiar text.

We all know this scenario. The professor issues back papers with comments but they all seem to use a codified method of commentary that students aren't usually familiar with. Worse yet, though the problem is addressed by the professor, the method of redress remains a mystery. "Develop more"--develop what more?

Here I hope to dispel the mysteries of these strange writings and turn them from red-inked hieroglyphs to constructive comments.
  • awk - "awkward." This is almost always a wording issue. The easy solution for this is to read the marked phrase out loud. Does it seem verbose? Do you get tongue-tied reading it? Then you might find a more concise and clear way to write it.
  • trans - "transition." Sometimes you'll see this in conjunction with the word needed. All this means is that you're missing a transition from idea to idea which causes your reader to get confused. Want some suggestions for transitions? Purdue OWL's got your back.
  • frag - "frag." Despite common beliefs, it does not have anything to do with grenades. This is just pointing to a sentence fragment. Double-check your sentence and make sure to make it complete. As the Purdue OWL mentions, a sentence fragment occurs when a complete sentence gets a period jammed in the middle of it or dropping a dependent clause on its own. These are easy fixes--get rid of the period or give the dependent clause a direct object or complete verb, depending on the context of the sentence.
  • ref - "referent." Likely, it's a case of using words like "this" or "that" but it's unclear as to what you're referring to with them. Make it more clear what the "this" or "that" is by being more specific.
  • ? - "what." That's a rough translation of the teacher's comment. It simply means that the point you're trying to make isn't getting across to the reader.
  • sp - "spelling error." Check your spelling. It probably didn't get caught by spellcheck or maybe you spelled the word correctly but used the wrong one.
Teacher's comments will often be unique to their courses, so it's possible that your instructor will be the first person you want to ask when it comes to his or her comments. There are some instructors who are so nice as to give out sheets that explain the comments they usually use on a paper.

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